Ways to Engage Your Audience
Presenters need audiences in order for speeches to be exemplary; therefore, it’s critical to keep your listeners engaged in what you’re saying from beginning to end. Even if you’re simply planning on lecturing a roomful of students who are (hopefully) taking notes, you’ll still need to keep their attention them during your speech.
This isn’t always an easy task, of course; there are plenty of perils that public speakers face, and audiences aren’t always the most likable or enthusiastic lot. However, if you want to put forward your best work (and that should always be the case, anyway), you’ll need to cleverly include ways to engage attendees in your presentation.
As you’re writing your next speech, keep these ideas in mind. They’re all great methods to pull your audience into the experience (sometimes quite actively, sometimes rather sneakily) for maximum results.
Ask Your Audience Questions
Include plenty of places in your speech where you can ask questions of your listeners. This not only keeps them on their toes, but it allows them to regularly participate. If you know the names of all (or most) of your attendees, you can even begin to call on them, adding a personal touch. As a result, everyone at your lecture will focus their attention on what you’re saying lest they look foolish in front of you… or their peers.
Again, if you’re giving a speech to a small group of persons (i.e., students, business people, nonprofit volunteers), you can always include a “break out” session where audience members do a bit of classwork. Such activities can be given to individuals or groups depending upon the structure of the presentation and the intended outcome of the speech.
Announce an Unexpected Quiz or Test
If you’re an educator, feel free to include an unexpected quiz or test as a portion of your speech. This kind of surprise may not be met with a high sense of happiness on the part of your students, but if they know that you’re the type of teacher who will expect them to know information, they’ll become more engaged.
Set up the Room for Maximum Participation
Unless you’re giving a speech in a pre-arranged room, you probably have a great deal of control over how the room is set up. (For instance, setting up chairs in a circle will enable participants to have face-to-face interaction with one another.) As you’re writing your presentation, ask yourself exactly which style of seating will be most likely to engage your listeners based on the length and content of your speech.
If you’re not a good storyteller, you would be wise to take some acting classes and learn how to relate a tale from your life (or someone else’s) with ease, grace and energy. Speeches with anecdotes peppered throughout tend to keep attendees’ collective attention; after all, from the time we’re very little, we’re taught to be transfixed by an interesting story.
Become a Comedian (of sorts!)
Obviously, not every subject is one where humour can be interjected. Yet if yours is appropriate for mirth, do include a few lighthearted comments. People love to laugh, and they tend to trust someone who makes them smile. If you can elicit a handful of grins during the course of your speech, your listeners will be appreciative and attentive.
Take Yourself Lightly
Audience members tend to react negatively to individuals who act as though they are overly special or emit an air of self-importance. Therefore, as you're writing your speech, think of ways you can include “lighter” elements. And if you make a slight gaff during your talk, feel free to laugh at yourself. You’ll seem much more human and much less stodgy.